London police 'scoping' alleged Saudi war crimes in Yemen
The Metropolitan Police's war crimes team said that a "scoping exercise" was underway in order to understand whether there is a case for criminal prosecution.
"On Thursday, 30 March 2017 the Metropolitan Police Service received a referral of an allegation of war crimes, made against Saudi Arabia committed in Yemen," a statement from the MPS said.
"Following receipt of the referral, the MPS war crimes team [part of the Counter Terrorism Command] began a scoping exercise and contacted those making the allegations".
"There is no investigation at this time, and the scoping exercise continues," the statement added.
A Downing Street spokesperson played down the significance of the report, The Guardian reported, saying: “There is no Met investigation. What has happened is that they received an allegation of war crimes. They are now conducting what is known as a scoping exercise, which is a different thing entirely to an investigation.”
The announcement came as British Prime Minister Theresa May was preparing for a three-day visit to the Middle East, which will also include a trip to Saudi Arabia for official talks.
The oil-rich kingdom is Britain's leading ally in the region. According to Amnesty International, the UK and its ally the US have sent more than five billion dollars worth of arms to Riyadh since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015.
Rights groups have urged the UK to end arms sales to the kingdom, however these calls have been rebuffed by Downing Street.
Britain's potential role in the ongoing conflict in Yemen has been controversial, with the government being urged to stop exporting arms to Saudi Arabia.
Last year, Britain was forced to admit that UK-made cluster bombs were used in Yemen by the Saudi-led coalition.
Cluster bombs, which can have devastating effects on densely-populated civilian areas, are banned by an international convention.
Saudi Arabia is not a signatory of the convention agreed by over 100 signatories in 2010.
According to Amnesty International, the Saudi-led coalition "absurdly justifies its use of cluster munitions by claiming it is in line with international law, despite concrete evidence of the human cost to civilians caught up in the conflict".